"We need rest," Carnesecca said. "Adrenaline has taken the place of fitness."
For all the promotional flack surrounding GT and St. J, the rest of the Big East teams—which the New York Daily News called the "Little Least"—gained respect mostly by beating up on one another. Though the league was second to the ACC among the nation's conferences in winning against outside competition, of the 31 Division I conferences, the Big East's combined non-conference schedules ranked a lowly 21st in toughness. And no Big East team had a non-conference schedule anywhere near the 50 toughest. Nonetheless, six Big East schools were invited to the NCAAs.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim admitted that the Georgetown-St. John's axis had overwhelmed the region. "But there's a gap between those two and the rest of the country, too," he said.
That remains to be seen, but the remains of the Big East were splattered like subway graffiti along the path to the finals. The most prominent victim was Joe Mullaney, the graceful silver-haired Providence coach who was winding up his 31-year career. After St. John's beat the Friars 90-62, Mullaney was given the game ball by Big East commissioner Dave Gavitt (once Mullaney's assistant coach) in an emotional ceremony at mid-court. Mullaney was then carried off by his team, which, considering its 10-19 record, was fortunate not to drop him.
Syracuse reached the semifinals only because a five-foot flip jumper by Troy Bowers of Boston College rolled around...and around...and in...and out...and around some more before dropping by the wayside. "God was on top of the rim," said the Orangemen's Washington, who had scored the winning basket in the 70-69 victory. No doubt the BC shot would have fallen had it been taken by the savior himself, Doug Flutie. But Flutie happened to be in street clothes—under the Eagles' basket, wearing a University of New Hampshire sweat shirt, waving a megaphone and screeching his wealthy little head off.
Fortunately for Flutie, he had vacated the premises the next evening because in about that same location occurred as ugly a scene as can be imagined on a basketball court: a raging Ewing throwing a roundhouse hook at Washington, which, if it had landed, would have turned Pearl into slime. Not that the Georgetown center had not been provoked. However, the incident posed the question: Can this league continue to thrive while permitting gutless, no-control officiating? Clean, hard, aggressive play is one thing. But Thompson so terrifies the Big East, and his team is allowed so much rope, that the result is a heated atmosphere brimming with animosity and nightly brawls. Ewing should have been thrown out immediately—in the NBA he would have been gone, with probably a $5,000 fine—and Washington possibly should have been heaved as well. But only one personal foul was called (on Washington) and one technical (on Ewing), while yammering, pointing and dangerous banging ensued during Georgetown's 74-65 win.
The situation was this: As the Hoyas' Wingate scored from the corner to tie the score at 10 apiece with less than seven minutes gone, Ewing delivered one of his violent elbows upon Washington's jaw. Uncharacteristically, Washington retaliated by jabbing Ewing in the rib area. Cheap shot, Bad foul, Flagrant foul. But then Ewing, after doubling over, paused, cocked and lunged at Washington with as mean a right fist as Larry Holmes has ever dreamed possible. A wild bench-clearing scuffle followed, with both players having to be restrained from renewing hostilities. "Ewing missed?" Carnesecca said later. "He missed the Maryanne punch? The big guy should stop fighting. He can't make enough money in the ring."
But let's be serious. The point is that after last season's Big East championship game, in which Georgetown's Michael Graham punched a Syracuse player and was allowed to remain in the game by referee Dick Paparo, who backed off after he obviously had ejected Graham, and after this year's fiasco, in which referee Larry Lembo issued a nonsensical statement that Ewing only "cocked his arm," Gavitt or somebody should figure out where this striped-shirt anarchy might lead. Even Thompson thought his meal ticket was gone this time. "That's why I ran out on the court," he said. "I wanted them to throw me out instead."
Ho ho. Fat chance.
Thompson constantly left the coaching box during the championship match, as did Carnesecca. For other misfeasances Big John was socked with two Ts before intermission, and Carnesecca drew one. When Paparo called St. John's center Bill Wennington for making an unsanitary gesture, he too picked up a tech, bringing the total to five in one half—the other was a bench T on the Redmen—surely a record outside the confines of Bloomington, Ind. However, Thompson's most satisfying trip had to be his last, when he joined the Hoyas for the traditional net-cutting.